Getting Started with Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is all the rage. People are realizing that lots of individual folks have a lot of trust and attention with valuable audiences (sometimes big, and sometimes just very specific). Getting these people to share and vouch for your content or product can be extremely valuable.

But how do you actually do that? How do you get those influencers to pay attention to you and share your stuff?

In general, much of the advice you’ll get here will be around “adding value” and “being of use”.

But what if you’re a new company or just a company (or individual) without much of a brand or audience in a niche? How can you “add value” for influential bloggers and social sharers when you don’t have your own influence and distribution?

Personally,  I’m always interested in “zero to one” progressions like this. I’ve been interviewing some of the people behind successful blogs to get at these very kinds of “origin stories” for now impressive platforms, and unearthed some interesting stuff, like the series I did for SEJ a few months ago:

I think a lot of people are interested in these kinds of early inflection points: how did that site or show or person go from start to where they are now? Frequently when you hear a tip from an accomplished person (about anything, really, but particularly in marketing and content distribution) you get some percentage of readers / viewers / listeners who respond:

“Sure, that’s easy for you, you already have an audience! That would never work for me!”

The reality, of course, is that in almost every such instance, there was a time when that “internet famous” writer or podcaster had zero followers or listeners. They had to build their audience.

So where can you start?

In this post I’ll walk through nine ways you can unlock influence you didn’t realize you had and help the “influencers” in your niche.

First Thing’s First: Know Their Audience

The foundational element behind any successful effort to “help” or “add value” is to understand what’s valuable and helpful to the specific person you’re trying to help.

If you identify a smart, relatively new blogger who is actively trying to build an audience, they might be intensely grateful for an opportunity to be interviewed on your blog – even if it’s not hugely popular – and introduced to your audience.

If a blogger already has a massive audience, though, there’s a strong chance they also have significant time commitments, so that same interview opportunity would not only not be something they appreciate, but something that’s an inefficient use of their time (and subsequently something that’s either a burden that they view as more of a favor to you than something you’re doing for them, or something that they have to spend their limited time considering and turning down).

Ask yourself some questions before you look to implement any of the below tactics:

  • Where does this person seem to be spending their time?
  • What are they working on that seems like it could use the most help?
  • What are they working on that you could most and best help with?
  • What are you asking of them in doing this “favor” for them? Are they getting more than they’re giving in the transaction?
  • Is there a better way for them that you can deliver this same favor / value? Can you provide the same basic value without them having to give up any of their time or effort?

Think in terms of what will actually be valuable and of use for these people, not just what’s most convenient and useful for you. As I’ll outline below, there are a lot of different ways to use your influence to help influencers, even if you didn’t realize you had much to share before reading this post.

1. Share Work You Love on Social Media

I have a couple thousand Twitter followers. You may have more or less, but either way most people would probably agree that I’m not a top-tier Twitter influencer. Despite that, by sharing work and content I’ve found valuable on social media I’ve gotten the attention of extremely smart people who I’m sure are very busy. Here are my “Top Tweets” for two different months according to Twitter Analytics:

September 2014:

March 2015:

In September my tweet of Copyblogger’s post was retweeted by the Copyblogger Twitter account, and James Altucher retweeted my share of his podcast in March. In both instances, just by sharing content I’d enjoyed I, got the attention of (and in these cases a retweet from) the folks whose content I was sharing.

James Clear is a popular blogger who writes a lot of great stuff on various topics related to habits and behavior change. Half way down his about page, James highlights a number of positive tweets in a “what subscribers say” section:

Obviously it looks like James is reading these positive mentions, and beyond that he’s actually highlighting these folks within his site.

People hit publish on blog posts and podcasts because they want that work to be consumed. You help more people find and consume the work by sharing. This is also a great example of an action you can take where there is value to the person you’re trying to help that costs them precisely zero. They can re-tweet your tweet if they choose (as you can see above some folks clearly will, particularly if you take the time to write something specific and unique about the post or show) or favorite or write back, but they don’t have to, and there’s not expectation implicit in your share. You’re doing something for them without asking for anything.

Most people who regularly create and publish content are reading their mentions. If you consistently share their best stuff with an honest and unique appraisal of it, it’s very likely they’ll notice that, particularly over time.

2. Write an Honest Email About How Much You Like Their Work

In the same way that people who are publishing their books, blog posts, podcasts, or videos want them to be seen (and will be grateful for their being shared – even if you’re only exposing a few more people to the work) the creators of this kind of content also appreciate genuine praise. If you work for years on a book or hours on a blog post, it’s nice to hear from someone about how useful they found it and how they got value out of it.

Many of your blogging heroes spend more time than they would like wading through toxic comment sections filled with negativity, ignorance, nit-picking, etc. You can counter-balance this by sending a kind, honest note about what you’ve learned from their work and how it’s helped you.

3. Link to Work You Love from Larger Sites

If you don’t have influence but you’re a strong writer and have valuable expertise within your niche, you can likely become a contributor for a site in your niche that DOES have good (or even great) distribution. As you’re creating content there, you’ll likely find lots of opportunities to share great resources written by the thought leaders within your niche. If you do this right, it can be a “quadruple win“—for you, the site you’re contributing to, the person whose work you’re highlighting, and of course: the readers of the piece.

4. Interview People on Larger Sites

Similarly, interviewing smart folks can be a great way to both give them a platform and also provide interesting content to readers, and if you don’t have great distribution yourself you may be able to conduct these as part of your contribution to other blogs.

5. Write a Review of their Work

In an interview, best-selling author Ryan Holiday shared how he met, built a relationship, and eventually got a job with best-selling author Tucker Max by writing and sharing a review of Max’s book that Holiday had written for his college paper.

There are some key components of writing an in-depth review of someone’s work that can frequently get that act noticed:

  • There’s a higher barrier to entry to writing a long-form, smart review of a piece than there is to a quick tweet or share. Thousands of people might tweet at or even email a popular writer, but it’s likely that only a handful will take the time to write out a full blog post about a book or collection of posts or podcasts.
  • Once again: there’s no expectation or requirement for the influencer: you write the post, you share it, the person you’re reviewing is free to read and share it themselves or not.
  • This additional effort on your end is likely more helpful to the person you’re trying to help. If you’re trying to convince people that a book or blog or course or podcast will be useful and worth their time or money, a well-written post detailing what’s interesting and valuable about the work will be more persuasive than a quick, simple tweet.

Just writing this type of review is a great way to help an influencer who has created work you love, but as with mentioning them in a post or interviewing them, if you can get this piece of content placed on a site with more distribution you’re providing even more value (through added exposure and trust) for them and their work.

6. Give them Something Thoughtful

If you feel like you have a good feel for what the influencer likes and would appreciate, giving them something thoughtful could be a great way to be of use and start to build a relationship. A gift, in this instance, could be a number of things:

  • Books: Did you read something you think they’d love? Send them a copy.
  • Samples: Offer them free samples of your product, or if you really think it’s relevant, access to your tool. Again: don’t make this overly difficult for them to access, and don’t take it personally if they’re not responsive.
  • Personal Gifts: Send them cookies, or a piece of memorabilia you think they’d like based on their social media activity.
  • Opportunities: Can you help them land a valuable speaking gig? Get them access to an exclusive event? Have a perfect recommendation for them for a speaker for their event or a candidate for their job? Try helping! The worst they’re likely to do is ignore you, and most people will at least be grateful for your effort.

Don’t force it – if you can’t think of something they would find useful just by looking at their Twitter profile, follow them for a while and wait until you get an idea for something that they’d truly find useful or interesting.

7. Pay for Their Service, Buy Their Book, or Donate Money to Something Meaningful to Them

If you were an author, tell me which opening email line you’d find more compelling:

Example 1: My name is Tom, I loved {book}. I found the chapter on {specific reference to a chapter that you actually read} really interesting and actionable. I’ve actually {specific thing you did in response to the chapter}. I’ve bought five copies of your book and gifted it multiple times to co-workers and friends and family.

Example 2: My name is Tom, I really love your stuff!

When you’re trying to build a relationship with someone, actually consuming the thing they do is important. Even more valuable than just reading their free blog content is putting some “skin in the game” and paying for what they do – whether that be buying a book or course, becoming a member of their site, making a donation to a charity they’re passionate about – whatever mechanism you can find.

As with writing a longer post, making a monetary contribution is a barrier to entry not everyone vying for this person’s attention will cross, and separates you from the other folks, while also allowing you to give back in exchange for the work they’ve done that you value. This obviously also provides an immediate and upfront benefit to them (that they don’t have to lift a finger to benefit from).

8. Help Their Audience

Most influencers will really value their own audience and their customers. If you have expertise that could be of use to those folks, you can give that expertise away as a means of indirectly adding value for the influencer. This could be by way of answering questions in blog comments on their posts or on a user / fan forum they run, or by organizing or sponsoring meetups and events centering around their work.

9. Do Free Work for Them

In the same way that doing free work can be a great way to get the job you want, doing free work for an influencer can help you build a relationship with that person. Once again: this shouldn’t create more work than value for the influencer. Don’t send an email saying “Hey, can I do anything for you?” Do the work for them so that they can capture value with minimal effort (remember: you want access to them, not the other way around).

You can use the same approaches some folks take to doing free work to get a job or land a new client to get the attention of the people you’re trying to reach out to: Make a series of personal, specific recommendations with a very detailed description of what you can do (and why it’s valuable).

Devesh Khanal outlined how he used this approach as well, with a number of additional examples of folks using the same tactic. In many of those instances the advice is geared towards getting clients, but again: if you’re looking to break through the inbox of a busy, influential person this could be a great way to differentiate yourself.

Final Thoughts

It is important to keep in mind as you execute any of these tips: most “influencers” are extremely busy. Some won’t respond, some won’t appreciate what you’ve done, some may even be rude. That’s life. If you want to break through, build relationships with these people, learn from them, and ultimately have them help you’ll need to do some speculative work and create value for them first.

Your turn: what did I miss? What other ways can folks just getting started help the influencers they want to get in touch with?


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Pressmaster via
All screenshots by Tom Demers. Taken August 2015.